There is only so much I can absorb about crime, education, Social Security, guns, abortion and school vouchers, especially when the candidates' positions often seem to reflect polling and focus-group data more than personal passion and original thinking. And how much of what's said on the campaign trail will really be translated into policy, anyway?
I've often toyed with what questions I would ask candidates running for national office to gauge their values, priorities, introspectiveness, candor -- and just to see if they know what I'm talking about.
After much consideration, here's what I'd ask them:
Are you concerned that the average American CEO now makes 475 times what the average worker makes (that's 10 times the 1980 figure), while doing all he can to minimize wages and benefits and send jobs overseas if possible?
Is there any behavior or level of personal wealth that you would define as greed? Do you believe most Americans are better off economically than they were 20 years ago?
What are your thoughts on the bureaucratic and corporate mindset that seems to negate employees' creative, spontaneous, intuitive and generous instincts?
How many people starve to death in the world each day? When was the last time you addressed this in a speech or interview? How much death, illness, oppression and other misery is caused worldwide by U.S. government and corporate policy, in your estimation?
Do you think the American people would appreciate your leaving a legacy of environmental, economic and social justice, world peace, democracy, and a worldwide living wage?
Do you think that the interests of Wall Street are inherently different from those of Main Street, and that the current system of campaign finance and soft money tilts the balance of influence to corporate interests at the expense of citizens?
Are you concerned about the fear-and-misinformation industry, phony corporate and advocacy front groups, and the politicization of health, nutrition and consumer information? Do you think of federal lands as being owned by the government or by the public?
How do you feel about radar detectors? Taxing Internet sales? Universal health care? "Instant" Internet voting?
Have you ever been attracted to someone of the same sex, even momentarily or mistakenly? Do you think marijuana causes more havoc than alcohol? Do you think global warming is fiction? Do you feel that most gun control advocates are really bent on elimination of private gun ownership?
Are you aware of the rapid reduction and pollution of water supplies and water tables, including in the United States? When was the last time you expressed concern about this in a speech or interview?
How do you feel about Tacitus' statement that "The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state?" Do you have any ideas on reducing the body of law to a level such that the average citizen can get through life on her best civic and social instincts without retaining an attorney?
How do you feel about Mark Twain's statement that "It's getting harder and harder to assemble a jury, because it's getting so hard to find 12 people who don't know anything and can't read"? How about Thomas Jefferson's warning that corporations should be strictly limited in their size, power and duration, and should never be accorded the rights of citizens?
Do you feel that TV and movie violence encourages violent behavior? Do you think that excessive TV and video games are reducing children's ability to think, read and socialize?
In matters such as honesty, trust, civility, Constitutional and historical knowledge, littering, voting, debate, handicapped parking and running stop signs, do you think the average person is getting more -- or less -- civic-minded?
Would you desire a different punishment for someone who robbed your mother of her life savings, depending on whether they stole it physically or "with a fountain pen"?
What do you think of the idea of having the prosecution and defense decide and declare whether the trial was fair and proper before a verdict is delivered, rather than automatically requesting an appeal or mistrial if the verdict doesn't go their way?
Well, now that that's over, let's go to Starbucks to discuss the decline of local businesses at the expense of national and multi-national chains.
Santa Fe producer and satirist Jim Terr has asked some of these and other questions in his book, Letters to Dr. Laura, and Other Struggles against Demagoguery and Fundamentalism.